Every once in awhile, I think it’s a good idea to examine what the words mean that the natural gas industry uses. Why? Because we should say to humans like Aubrey McClendon, as if we were Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Speaking of McClendon, let’s look at the word “shallow” today. What does “shallow” mean, and where does it come into play during the gas conversation?
To most humans and almost all dogs, “shallow” simply means “not deep.” When it comes to geology, it is important not to let the gas industry exploit your current understanding of the word shallow. Industry often expands the word shallow to mean anything located above the Marcellus Shale.
Even if it’s still 3,000-4,000′ deep, it gets called “shallow” by the gas industry.
It’s important that you know why! Under this definition of the word shallow, to the common human, a layer of rock called “a shallow Upper Devonian formation” or the phrase “shallow gas” makes you think that it’s (1) rather close to the surface, (2) not near the Marcellus Shale, and (3) not thermogenic.
Guess what? If you look at a map of the rock layers beneath PA, you find that the Marcellus is in the Middle Devonian formation and that there is an Upper Devonian formation that sits on top of it. Right next to it. Marcellus here is about a mile deep, and its thickness and depth both vary, as do all rock layers. “Shallow” is not absolute. In some areas, the Marcellus comes right up out of the ground.
Now that’s shallow!
You can’t stick the word “shallow” in just anywhere you want– and, keeping in mind how big the earth is, even the Marcellus is shallow in comparison to deeper layers.
So, humans, today I ask you to go deeper than superficial thinking and head-nodding. Don’t be an Aubrey McClendon– don’t stick with the shallow answers to the deep questions. And, when you hear a word like “shallow,” ask for an absolute value! Do they mean five feet deep? Five hundred? Five thousand….?
Finally, on a practical note, it’s important that if you hear of a difference between “shallow” gas and “deep” gas, you keep in mind that this is often a play on words. It’s an artful confusion. A gas company will attempt to show that the methane in someone’s water well is “shallow” and therefore not the “deep” gas for which they drill.
But, as you just learned, “shallow” is relative and the gas in a water well can be from several thousands of feet deep and still be technically called “shallow” because the gas company means “in comparison to the Marcellus Shale.”
This is sometimes used as an attempted excuse for alleged liability. The problem, of course, is that it just doesn’t matter whether the gas company’s activity made shallow or deep gas migrate. This is beside the point. The point is that the there was no methane in the water well before, and then there was gas drilling/fracking activity, and now there is in fact methane in the water well.
Gas companies will go so far as to use personal pronouns for migrating gas. They call the gas on the wellpad “theirs” and the gas in your water well “yours.” This seems rather funny, but really it’s not. Reject these pronouns if you are ever in the sorry situation of dealing with methane migration into your water supply from a gas well operation. The pronouns are a purposeful and unneccesary addition to the conversation.
Adding pronouns like “yours” and “ours” serves the gas company’s purpose of creating a false dichotomy right at the get-go. Just refer to it as “the gas” so as to be as objective as possible. The gas companies claim they are objective and scientific– so why do they insist on using pronouns? Be the less-biased human, and just call it “the gas.”
So, to review our conversation about word choice today: watch out for “shallow” statements and unwarranted pronouns. Stick with the facts: Clean water, then industry development, now bad water.
This, my human friends, is why you all need to have your well water tested–like, yesterday.